4. Changes in the Loci of Arab Elite Power Bases: From the Land to the Towns and the Metropolis

Traditionally internal power and patronage of the Arab elites was traditionally centred in the local village and relied upon land ownership. External factors – particularly the financial predicament in which the Porte’s found itself in the latter half of the nineteenth century were to change this.

To manage its heavy public debt burden more efficiently, the Porte attempted to centralise and assert greater administrative control over the population and territory under its jurisdiction. The Young Turks, after their revolution against the rule of Sultan Abdulhamit II in 1908, propelled this movement and tendency towards the centralisation of power with greater enthusiasm.

Prior to World War I The Ottoman administrative structure placed Palestine in the regional Wilayet (Wali) of Beirut and the independent Sajak of Jerusalem. The wilayet themselves were subdivided into administrative subunits- sanjaq – which were further subdivided into local qaza . The local qaza of Palestine consisted of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Sefad, Tiberius, Jenin, Tulkarm, Beersheba, Gaza, Hebron, Jaffa and Jerusalem. As will become apparent in Chapter V, the appellation of administrative wilayet within which Palestine lay became a central issue in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence over the alleged conflicting promises Britain gave to the Jews and to the Arabs over the disposition of Palestine following World War I.

Kenneth.W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine 1917-1939, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1984, (hereinafter Stein) p 9

If the Ottomans were to extract themselves from their economic plight and dependency on external influences, their government re-organisation now demanded a more highly trained and centralised bureaucracy. However, since it was hard to recruit qualified candidates, the reforms which the Porte wanted to institute failed to be realised for the most part. Instead, the bureaucratic structure which they established created many new official positions. These presented elites with opportunities to serve on local councils, committees, boards and commissions, often holding more than one administrative position at the same time and over an extended period, as exemplified in sanjaqs of Acre and Nablus.

The administrative reorganisation coupled the exploitation of the land reform legislation – discussed earlier in Section 3.c.ii – permitted the elites to accumulate both property and power and enabled them to place their tribal kinsmen at pivotal points in the administrative structure. The qaza level of administration required numerous civil servants to support the local councils, tax and finance commissions, courts of first instance, agricultural and commercial committees, chambers of commerce, education committees, land registry, military transportation commissions, telegraph and postal services and the local police. The appointed incumbents of the official positions and their supportive staff, each in his own sphere and in the exercise of his authority, were thus enabled to generate considerable ‘emoluments,” and advancement in social status. (see Stein pp 7-8)

As a consequence, small town patrons who previously had wielded power and garnered their wealth based on land holdings, now saw the larger urban centres as the arenas in which to operate for their own advancement and that of their kinsmen. Accordingly, Arab elites migrated from the villages to the larger towns and from the latter to Istanbul, Damascus and Beirut directing their attentions and efforts to wider horizons.

This shift in the locus and system of patronage from that based on local land ownership left the fellah under the control of a lower status kinsman or at the mercy of an indifferent agent, and bereft of his traditional patron to whom he could turn in times of trouble. Consequently, when Jewish settlements began to appear, it naturally created tension between Jews and Arabs, as one group intentionally or otherwise interfered with the land resources claimed by the other. Cultural and language barriers between the two probably exacerbated the issues of contention.

Furthermore the middle-ranking official and bureaucratic supportive Arab staff employed at all levels of public administration later provided Arab-Palestinian nationalists with unexpected political and administrative leverage in their subsequent dealings with the local British military and civil governments in Palestine after 1919.
(see Donna Robinson Divine, Politics and Society in Ottoman Palestine: The Arab Struggle for Survival and Power, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 1994 http://www.questia.com/library/book/politics-and-society-in-ottoman-palestine-the-arab-struggle-for-survival-and-power-by-donna-robinson-divine.jsp)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.